The first time I really traveled solo, I was living in London (a totally different kind of traveling solo – I knew I’d meet people since I was in school so I count this as ‘less solo’ and not really ‘travel’) and heading out to Paris and Lyon for my reading week break. While this is not my first time writing about this trip (<= the first post of about 9 across 4 months of posts), after almost two years since heading out, I found that I have a few things left to say.
Now, this post is not about Paris, Lyon, or France – it is purely about what I have learned from traveling solo and how it has changed me since.
1. Stop being so nice. – I know, I know, this is so far from what I normally recommend. I am all about smiling at strangers, saying hello, and putting your best foot forward, but it is important to know when to stop. Whether it’s an aggressive stranger or panhandler, or a situation that just makes you uncomfortable (and I’m sorry to say, ladies, but you are bound to happen upon at least one of these), you do not have to be nice about how you say no. Just say that word (No!) and walk away.
This can be really uncomfortable, especially for women who have been trained that taking a stand just makes you a bitch. Worse, many of us have had bad altercations because we have said no or stood up for ourselves. Here is my counter: when you are traveling solo, being complacent will not get you out of a bad situation, and you can always find people or a crowd that will make saying no easier, or at the very least, feel safer.
2. Take up space. – When I was living in London, I saw a lot of men who would sit with legs spread or bags seriously encroaching on others space (the word ‘man-spreading’ was not made up for nothing!) and while I don’t recommend following these spreaders example, don’t force yourself to be small to placate others.
Repeat after me: I deserve to take up space!
Why is this important to note when traveling solo? In part, staying small allows others to take over the space that you are vacating (see point one on why that can cause an issue!), taking advantage of you. On another point, if you pay for a trip, especially a solo trip where you get to dictate your every activity, you get to enjoy said trip and all the freedom that is waiting for you.
3. Do what you want to do. – As I have said, for most of us, solo trips are selfish in that we go on them so we can do what WE actually want to do without anyone else dictating their whims to us. During your travels, however, you may meet people who you choose to day-trip with which is amazing. Just because you make these friends does not mean that you give up what you want to see and/or do. If you really like someone or a group, set up a time after your individual activities to go out and eat, drink, or whatever else.
Again, never feel bad for doing what you actually want! I know from experience that you will absolutely regret it. Hell, this goes for traveling with people as well! Don’t feel bad for taking a day to do what you want – just let the person planning the trip know so no pre-bought tickets are wasted on you!
4. Don’t ask permission for going and taking action. – Basically, don’t let anyone else’s nay-saying stop you from going on a solo adventure.
Maybe your friend has always wanted to go somewhere and it was supposed to be the two of you. Now imagine you have the opportunity to go and, with all your research, you have so much stuff you want to do there. Unfortunately, your friend either isn’t serious about finding a time or way to actually go or keeps finding excuses not to get their butt in gear. Or maybe you have a family thing that pops up – I’m not talking a wedding or a funeral or a once in a lifetime event for someone close to you – suddenly, and someone starts calling you selfish for not postponing.
Should you really wait? I know it’s hard but I say no. With the friend, tell them you are ready to go and you will go again with them later when they are actually committed (you never know when you will have the chance again!). When it comes to the family member, this can be really tough and personal but you really have to make the choice based on your situation.
5. Seriously, stop being so ‘nice’! – This is not only the theme of this whole post, but it’s so important it has to be stated twice.
As a girl, we’ve been trained to be docile, polite, and step aside so that others are comfortable and as a solo traveler this is not only going to take so much of your experience away before you even set out, it can also put you in bad (even dangerous) situations. So don’t be led by others, say no and mean it and make them know you mean it, feel free to walk away, and don’t apologize for taking up space you deserve or not consulting others when making you decisions.
So there it is, my 10th post inspired by one trip – who know there was so much to say!
A few final (and positive) notes, I want to say that there is an amazing freedom to solo travel that can never be fully articulated. Even if you are reading this list thinking ‘I could never do that!’, trust me, when you are out there, you will feel it. It’s empowering and exhilarating.
As I mentioned in my opening, I have discovered that taking these lessons into the real world has done me a world of good. If you can travel through an unknown city, claiming your space, dictating what you do and every choice you make, and not letting others stand in your way (again, this doesn’t mean you are rude just to be rude!), why wouldn’t you want this freedom in your everyday life? I am talking more assuredly, looking people in the eye, standing taller, and telling people when they have crossed a line. Sure, you can get all of this by traveling generally but it’s a whole different level when it’s all up to you; a privilege and a responsibility.
So, that’s all for me. I’d love to hear what lessons you have learned or what you are afraid of when traveling alone, or if you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!
This is Leave o the Wind, helping you soar.